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Defense Department Threatens Gitmo Lawyer With Jail for Writing to President Obama

This story, which was reported in The Guardian and confirmed by publicly filed court documents, is one of the stranger means the Obama administration has used thus far to keep quiet the sins of its predecessor.

As I’ve written before, lawyers representing the ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed have been complaining that the U.S. government is forbidding the release of evidence that the Ethiopian-born U.K. resident was tortured in U.S. custody.In February, Clive Stafford Smith, director of the nonprofit organization Reprieve, which represents many Guantanamo Bay detainees, sent President Obama a letter saying that the Defense Department was not letting Obama see the evidence. Smith suggested that, as the commander-in-chief, Obama may want to change that.

Well, officials from the Department of Defense who make up a “privilege review team,” which monitors and censors communication between Guantanamo prisoners and their lawyers, didn’t like that at all. So in March, they filed a report with a federal court in Washington, D.C., calling the Reprieve lawyers’ letter “unprofessional” and charging that they’d violated the court’s protective order, which protects classified evidence. The odd thing about it was the letter to President Obama contained no evidence, and the attached memo discussing the torture was entirely blacked out — illustrating what Smith called the “bizarre reality” of the court’s order, which forbids even the president from seeing the evidence.

So how his this violating a protective order? The Defense Department’s report isn’t clear, but Judge Thomas Hogan has ordered Smith and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour to appear in his court on May 11 and explain why they should not be held in contempt of court — and perhaps jailed for up to six months — for their alleged transgression.

“What this is really all about is official embarrassment at looking bad.”

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